Reviewed by Mark D. Nevins:

JOHN D. MacDONALD – The Damned. Gold Medal #240, paperback original, 1952. Reprinted many times. First hardcover edition: Robert Hale, UK, 2005 (allegedly only 300 copies printed).

   I’ll transparently admit that John D. MacDonald is not only one of my favorite crime writers, but one of my favorite writers, period. His voice, prose style, and regular authorial interjections, which many readers seem to really dislike, are what set him apart from the pack for me: he’s smart, observant, has fascinating insights into human nature, and can really tell a story too.

   While I’m close to the end of my slow in-order read of the Travis McGee series, I’m comforted to know that I still have a lot of his stand-alones to go. The Damned is from early in MacDonald’s career, when he was just starting to leave science fiction behind. It’s also allegedly one of his best-selling titles, owing to a blurb that the publisher somehow tricked the enormously popular Mickey Spillane into giving: “I wish I had written this book.”

   I don’t think The Damned is a typical JDM book, and it’s probably even a stretch to call it “crime fiction,” even though some people die and even though you’d likely find the book in that section of a used bookshop. The Damned picks up the lives of about a dozen Americans who are stranded together in Mexico because of a broken ferry, and as such it’s a series of portraits both natural and psychological.

   It’s a wonderful, fun, and even poignant read, with some interesting insights too into views of the time, 60 years ago — sort of a little Gold Medal 1950’s Canterbury Tales.